Last week, the Innovation Labs Startup Day marked the beginning of Phase 2. On Monday 18th March, all the grant recipients came together at Comic Relief HQ in London to meet each other for the first time. There to greet them were the members of the Project Board and representatives from each of the Labs funders. We also welcomed The Invictus Trust, who recently joined the funding partnership at this exciting time.
Innovation Labs Style
Billy Dann began the Labs Startup Day by reminding us why the initiative is so exciting and innovative:
- It fits with young people’s lives in a way that existing services often don’t.
- It is grant-making co-designed with service users. That means that young people are co-delivering and are equal to funders when making management decisions.
- It is a partnership. This means the risks and costs are shared between Comic Relief, Right Here, the Invictus Trust and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and so is the experience! Each partner brings their own unique knowledge and expertise to the labs and to the process.
- Through example it is stimulating the third sector to explore digital tech.
As the person responsible for mental health grants at Comic Relief, the typical grant that Billy awards would be around 100k-150k over 3 years, with an expectation that the funded project would reach around 30 young people a year. With the Innovation Labs, Billy believes that “We have the potential to reach thousands of young people who are genuinely excluded from services for whatever reason.”
From Post-it Note to Project
Also present was Harry Harold from Neon Tribe. He’s been involved with the labs since Phase 1. He enjoyed the two minute pitches that started the day because it was “ace to hear about how ideas I saw started as a post-it scribble from a young person who really cared, are growing into funded projects.”
Part of the day also included a session on ‘Funder Expectations’. This was a time for everyone to discuss monitoring requirements and evaluation issues. Two main questions emerged:
- How are we going to measure success within each of the seven funded products – the difference between quantitative data and qualitative data.
- What young people get out of the co-design process. It was a really good opportunity for the grantees to pose their questions to the funders and explore expectations around youth involvement.
Part of the discussion focused on monitoring and reporting. Grantees will be expected to submit freestyle reports on a quarterly basis. These will be compared about the Full Business Plans and the Key Performance Indicators that the grantees themselves wrote up during their application process. There will be a traffic light system in place, so that grantees can signal to their funders how their projects are developing. Green will indicate that a particular area is going smoothly, yellow will reveal worries, while red will highlight problems.
Sharing the Learning
It’s also important to remember that a red signal isn’t something to hide from the funders. One of the key messages of one of the funders, Right Here, is the importance of early intervention. That same principle applies to the Innovation Labs process. Identifying a problem as soon as it happens, means that help and support can be given by the funders. It can also be a lesson learnt and shared with the other grantees. As Billy said, “an important part of innovation is learning. It is vital that successes and failures are identified so that the experience can be shared with others.”
Evaluating the Products
The initiatives formal evaluation process will look at the individual impact and success of each of the seven ideas, the process as a whole, and the marketing and reach of the product after its launch. We’ll want to know how and how often young people use the products, their reasons for doing so, whether and how it is helping. These are all standard monitoring questions and the Comic Relief Learning and Evaluation team has plenty of expertise of and advice to offer. They emphasise that they don’t want to be “another log of bureaucracy” and would rather “lubricate the process, and help you get excited and make things”.
Key Evaluation Questions
They are keen for grantees to ask themselves the following two questions:
- How do the issues you are trying to resolve translate into a service or a product?
- Product functionality needs to be communicated in human language. How will people talk about success in conversational terms?
They also encourage any grantees with further questions to contact them.
Ultimately, the Startup Day marks the beginning of the sevens ideas turning into a tangible reality and, as Billy stated,“If we strip everything back, we will learn at the end if we can use digital technology to help young people have better mental health and wellbeing.”
We can only wait to find out.